On Stilts

She was the only child, she says — she never
got to play. Mother put her to work as soon
as she could walk, a brand-new list of chores
every morning. Pennsylvania Germans
were very judgmental, she says,
her eyes made enormous by thick glasses.
Whenever anything bad happened, it could only be
punishment for some slip: the Lord is good.

Now, with both parents dead, she thought
she was unlikely ever to go back.
But after the vitrectomy, she had to lie prone
for two weeks while her eyes refilled with fluid.
Short trips to the bathroom were O.K.,
as long as she didn’t look at anything
but the floor. If she tilted her head back just once,
the ophthalmologist warned, her eyes might collapse
into their sockets. She felt like a slug,
complete with retractable eyestalks.

Her husband bought her a laptop
& placed it on a chair at the foot of the bed
where she could comfortably reach the keys,
& she bookmarked pictures of the sky.
They helped her fall asleep — a few, difficult hours
wrested from the interminable wakefulness.
She dreamt of crossing darkened fields
& forests on tall stilts, the lamp-lit kitchens
of her childhood teetering below.

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